Somewhere in the neighborhood of 68,000 raucous spectators will be packed into Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to watch the New England Patriots meet the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday. UConn’s Mike Sargent ’12 (CANR) will be there, too, but he’ll be viewing the game from a completely different vantage point than the average fan.
Sargent, a native of Belmont, N.H., is a double major in turfgrass & soil sciences and horticulture, with a minor in landscape design, in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. As the winner of the Toro Company’s Toro Super Bowl Sports Training Program scholarship, he has spent the week leading up to the Super Bowl working alongside NFL field director Ed Magnan, groundskeeper George Toma, and the Super Bowl grounds crew. He’s been learning about turf maintenance, logo painting, field preparation for media day, and preparations for the halftime extravaganza that will be headlined by Madonna.
“This has been an awesome experience,” says Sargent, who admits to being “a huge Patriots fan.” He has spent the week learning the ‘tricks of the trade’ from veteran grounds keepers, and he’s also had the chance to meet players from both teams and to mingle with the cast and crew of the half-time show.
“On Wednesday, I got to hold the net and return the ball to [Pats’ place kicker] Stephen Gostkowski when he was practicing. That was amazing,” he says. “I never expected I’d have the chance to do that.”
This year’s game is being played on synthetic turf, which means that Sargent has been learning the nuances of keeping the layers of rubber and sand in great shape, as well as making sure the surface will be neither too soft nor too hard come game time.
“This isn’t the type of surface he’s used to,” says Jason Henderson, assistant professor of plant science and landscape architecture in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, “but there’s still a lot of maintenance involved. This is a great opportunity for Mike to learn from the best people in the business. He’s really outgoing and a quick learner, and he knows enough to keep his mouth closed and his eyes and ears open. I’m sure he’s making the most of this opportunity.”
The process of applying for the Toro scholarship involves filling out an application, supplying references, and writing an essay. Sargent went the extra mile and provided a video highlighting his experiences at UConn.
“I sent my application off in October and began thinking how great it would be if I won and if the Patriots could make it to the Super Bowl,” he says. “I was notified [that I’d won the scholarship] during Thanksgiving break and then I just had to wait for the Pats to do their part.”
UConn’s program is designed to provide students with basic and applied knowledge in all aspects of turfgrass science including the development and care of golf courses, athletic facilities, and commercial properties. With two-year, four-year, and graduate programs to choose from, there are opportunities in teaching, research, public service, or agribusiness upon graduation. The various programs boast nearly a 100 percent job placement rate among graduates.
“A lot of the success of our program comes down to attracting motivated and focused students, like Mike,” says Henderson. “We provide the opportunities, and the students provide the passion and the work ethic to do well.”
The Toro Company has worked with the National Football League for over 40 years to prepare fields for the annual Super Bowl, the NFL’s showcase event. In 2003, the company established the Toro Super Bowl Sports Training Program. Sargent is the second UConn student in the past five years to earn this scholarship.